When you search the internet for RV awning replacement fabrics you will soon discover you have 2 basic choices, acrylic or vinyl, with acrylics getting most of the attention. You’ll also find many acrylic manufacturers marketing their fabrics (this is not true for vinyls) which will lead you to the conclusion acrylics are it and vinyl is no more than the poor mans substitute for the real thing. In the RV world that leaves you with A&E (Domestic corporation) using primarily vinyl and Carefree of Colorado taking the high road and using primarily acrylics. Rich man…poor man. The choice couldn’t be simpler.
But, not so fast! I’ve worked for RV dealers throughout the west, have had my own mobile RV repair service, I’ve worked on RV’s for the weekend camper as well as the “full timer” who lives in his or her RV permanently. With the passage of time the weekend RV’er will come to learn what the fulltimer discovered long before and that is RV slide out awnings take a beating…that OEM vinyls are substandard and OEM acrylics stretch.
I’m a specialist in the area of slide out awnings. I’ve worked on them, repaired them, replaced them, and now have my own slide out replacement fabric company so what follows is based on my experience.
First, I’m not going to disparage acrylic fabrics. They are good, reasonably tough, and can last a long time. However, I’ve found they have their place. If you drive through any RV park in the winter filled with hundreds of Snowbirds and if you have a little bit of wind you see and hear some slide out awnings “whipping” in the wind and in most cases they will Carefree of Colorado acrylics. Why? Because they are prone to stretching unfortunately in their most vulnerable area, right at the ends where the wind easily gets to them. Another negative of Carefree awnings is the rest of the awning often outlasts Carefree’s stitching…so what good is the best fabric on the planet if the stitching doesn’t live up to its end?
Carefree has switched from Sunbrella, an established name in acrylics, to Recasens, a Spanish company with an established history. Recasens advertise their fabrics do not stretch. Carefree is hesitant in going that far and have matter of factly told me “all fabrics stretch”. I’ve found that indeed is their belief and their policies bear it out as I’ve seen them reject warranty claims on stretched material. Enough said!
Before we go any further we need to take a closer look at RV Slide Out Awnings. Most people do not understand that slide out awnings “take a beating” compared to their patio awning counterparts. One may think they’re “up there and out of the way” but nothing could be further from the truth. When the conditions are “right” they form neat wind tunnels that will drive RV inhabitants “crazy”. Whenever the RV is in use…the slide out awning is in use. (This is not true for the patio awning) and are susceptible to wind, rain, sun, storms, hurricanes, etc. On the other hand any responsible RV’er knows if his patio awning is left “out” in a storm…he may no longer have an awning after the storm has passed.
Both A&E and Carefree (Carefree does use vinyl on some of their awnings) use substandard vinyl fabrics on their slide out awnings. (If you get 3 – 5 years lifespan…you’re doing good). Surprisingly it appears they think no one will notice. OEM vinyls tend to delaminate because of their poor tensile strength and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse I have a case where A&E sends me an even lighter fabric for a warranty claim. When the customer and I discovered what was obvious we just stood their with our mouths hanging open. He knew it would only be a matter of time before he would be going through this again. So Tough Top Awnings use a heavier and stronger vinyl( a very high tensile strength) which has stood the test of time through out America. Go figure!
In conclusion acrylics have their place. I wouldn’t hesitate to use an acrylic fabric on patio awnings but for my money (and all of my customers) a high grade vinyl may be a better choice for RV slide outs.